Chemist Warehouse co-owner revealed as Morning Star estate buyer

Mount Eliza’s Morning Star estate has sold.
Mount Eliza’s Morning Star estate has sold.

My Chemist Retail Group co-owner Mario Verrocchi has been unveiled as the buyer of Mount Eliza’s famed Morning Star estate, which sold after about three months on the market asking $40m.

Title documents for 2 Sunnyside Road reveal the rich lister — who is chief executive of the group comprising the Chemist Warehouse and My Chemist chains — placed a caveat on the landmark property on September 24, just days before the sale was confirmed.

By lodging a caveat, a buyer can prevent others from registering interest in a property ahead of theirs.

Selling agent Michael Keating confirmed an international businessman with “property interests around the world” had fought off competition from across the globe to snare the “Downton Abbey … of Australia”, which has hosted several film shoots and rock concerts.

But he remained tight lipped about the buyer’s identity.

The Michael Keating International director was also unable to disclose Morning Star’s sale price after signing confidentiality agreements. But the Herald Sun understands it was in the vicinity of the eight-figure asking price.

He said he received “literally hundreds” of inquiries from would-be buyers, including expats and investors based in the US, China, Hong Kong, Thailand, the UK, France and Australia.

The purchaser “knows first-class real estate when he sees it” and intended to make the seaside gem “a property for his family in the future”, Keating added.

“It is likely the property will be very, very much loved, and rightly so,” he said.

The prized seaside property attracted interest from across the world.

“There is nothing else like it in Australia. You’ve got 157 acres (63ha) with beach frontage, less than an hour from a capital city that’s soon to be Australia’s largest. It’s a no-brainer.”

Keating said it was too early to say whether the new owner would keep the landmark running as a hospitality and events venture, as owner of more than two decades Judy Barrett had.

Verrocchi’s business partner, My Chemist Retail Group chairman, Jack Gance has also been involved in notable property transactions in recent years, with wife Evelynne securing neighbouring Toorak mansions on Yar Orrong Rd for more than $15 million each in 2019.

Ultra-wealthy Londoner Francis Gillett established the sprawling estate in the 1860s as a “summer palace” and the property hasn’t been subdivided since, making it one of the Mornington Peninsula’s largest individual landholdings.

It includes an original five-bedroom mansion and a 12ha vineyard that reputedly contains grapes brought over from France by Franciscan friars, who ran the estate as the Morning Star Boys’ Home in the 1930s.

Barrett turned the property into a 20-room hotel, a wedding venue, a restaurant, and a function and conference facility, nestled among gardens comprising 75,000 rose bushes and a helipad.

She almost sold the package to a Chinese developer for $36.2m three years ago. But that deal fell through, likely saving the piece of peninsula history from being bulldozed.

The property features an 1860s mansion built for an ultra-wealthy Londoner.

Morning Star also has pop culture credibility, having hosted INXS and Jimmy Barnes gigs, plus the first ‘A Day on the Green’ festival in 2001, and featured in films Kath and Kimderella and Partisan.

Keating said the fact the property spent most of its time on the market during Melbourne’s strict COVID-19 lockdown didn’t hamper the deal, with the pandemic instead boosting buyer interest by “making Aussies overseas realise just how wonderful a place they’ve got at home”.

“Thankfully the properties we handle (are) not ones you would necessarily need to come and see,” he said.

“You know you’re buying the location, you’re buying a first-class property.”

This article from the Herald Sun originally appeared as “Morning Star estate, Mount Eliza, sells after attracting global interest”.